Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What inspires writers?

Last week the Guardian ran an item about "the sometimes very unlikely people, places and ideas that have inspired" a few writers.

One of the writers the paper queried was Lionel Shriver:

I am sometimes asked where I got the idea to write a book about an American boy who murders several people at his high school, and I have to suppress a "What, are you stupid?" expression. Unfortunately, I did not conjure school shootings from thin air. I got the idea from the newspapers. Peach-coloured sunsets may inspire many an artier writer, but I derive much of my material from black and white. On a good day, I plough through the Daily Telegraph, the New York Times (online), and the Guardian, over all of which - ask my poor husband - I never shut up. My prevailing humours inhabit a narrow range between incredulity (yesterday: to a mother exasperated that her 13-year-old has still not learned the most rudimentary maths skills, a teacher in Seattle explains that teaching students long division would "stifle their creativity") and consternation (last month: some passing yob tosses a banana peel on a car, and the driver picks it off; the council promptly gives the motorist a ticket for littering), with dashes of despair (every day: Iraq). My flat is strewn with clippings. I have a special passion for the tiny stories on inside pages that most people overlook: "Woman Finally Cures Her 40-Year Fear of Vegetables".

Obviously, any fiction writer employs personal experience. But my acquaintances are limited, and too often much like me. So I rely on the papers for a window on the lives of normal folks who don't piddle on a keyboard all day.

Click here to read Shriver's complete response as well as that of four other writers.

--Marshal Zeringue